Zidane’s first European outing finished with a clear victory, which is what will go into the record books. I’ll confess though that the game didn’t thrill me. I thought the first three-quarters were tedious. Nobody moved about other than Salah, who bustled around on Roma’s right side. Over the rest of the pitch a non-aggression pact reigned, somewhat Italian-style, which at times was simply irritating. More Roma’s fault, of course - they were playing at home and were therefore obliged to do more. But Italian football remains a prisoner to its old obsessions: best not to concede, and if you sneak one, better yet.
From out of the boredom burst, well into the second half, Cristiano’s golazo, a bolt of lightning in the night. Marcelo moved the ball to him and Cristiano advanced strongly, flicked the ball behind himself (a move patented in his day by Cruyff) and crowned the move with a spectacular right foot effort into the corner, the twin of the goal he put past Gorka last Saturday. An away goal, that’s all you can ask for from a game like this. Soon after Spalletti brought on Dzeko, whose muscular presence in the area was soon noted. He caused problems and the final stages of the game were more exciting. But it was Jesé who nicked a goal, after coming on for James, to cap a fine solo burst forward.
In short: 0-2. It wasn’t a great game (nothing compared to PSG-Chelsea the night before) but it showed the difference between the two teams. Which of the Roma players would get a place in the Madrid starting line-up? The first big test in Zidane’s career was in reality a pretty tame one. The hard stuff will come later, but today’s optimism is valid. Barça won in Gijón, yes; winning the Liga title is now an extreme challenge, true; but in the Champions League nobody is better placed than Madrid, who have one foot in the quarter-finals. The only bad news was Benítez’s griping. I’m not saying he’s not right, but it’s hardly elegant to come out and say that stuff now.